Oklahoma City center Enes Kanter said Monday he routinely received death threats for criticizing the government of his native Turkey, and he may seek an expedited process toward becoming a U.S. citizen.
Kanter was detained at an airport in Romania over the weekend, with border police there saying they did so because Turkish authorities canceled his passport. Kanter eventually was allowed to leave for London and then New York, after he said officials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and others intervened on his behalf.
Kanter held a news conference in New York on Monday and said he was the target of two more death threats earlier in the day.
“This is definitely crazy right now,” he said.
Kanter has long been a critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whom he has likened to Adolf Hitler on multiple occasions. Kanter contends, among other things, that a failed coup attempt last year was actually staged by the Erdogan-led government.
“I call it the fake coup attempt,” Kanter said. “Last year, they did a fake coup attempt themselves, so they can control everything. So right now, the Erdogan government is controlling the army, controlling the police, controlling judges, controlling journalists, everything.”
Kanter makes no secret of his support of Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who opposes Erdogan. Kanter said that when he was detained in Romania, he feared he would be sent back to Turkey.
Kanter said he has not spoken with his parents and other relatives in Turkey in more than a year.
“There’s no democracy. There’s no freedom of speech, freedom of religion. It’s definitely been crazy,” Kanter said. “Right now, even if I tried to communicate with my parents, my mom, my dad, my brother or sister, they would probably right now listen on their phones and as soon as they are in contact with me they’ll put them in a jail. And the jails are not fun, of course.”
Kanter has a green card for entry to the U.S. but no passport, which is problematic on several fronts. He had several international trips planned this summer on his foundation’s behalf, and he also likely would not be able to enter Canada without the passport – a problem considering Oklahoma City plays once each season in Toronto.
Romanian Border Police Spokesman Fabian Badila told The Associated Press that Kanter arrived Saturday at about 1 p.m. from Frankfurt at Bucharest’s Henri Coanda Airport, traveling on a Turkish passport.
“My colleagues discovered … that the passport had been canceled by Turkish authorities, and legally he is not allowed to enter Romania,” Badila said.
Kanter has been in the NBA for six seasons. He averaged 14.3 points and 6.7 rebounds this season for the Thunder. He said it’s his understanding that the process to become a U.S. citizen can take five years, though he hopes that can be accelerated in his case.
“I feel like this is my home now,” Kanter said.